Monday, November 05, 2018

Democracy and Voting

An excerpt from George Washington’s farewell speech:
“Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate 
peace and harmony with all.  Religion and morality enjoin this 
conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin
 it  It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no 
distant period, a great nation, to give to (hu)mankind the 
magnanimous and too novel example  of a people always 
guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt 
that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan 
would richly repay any temporary advantages which might 
be lost by a steady adherence to it”  
No distant period is a relative term, but hopefully we can still be guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Now morality is a tricky thing isn’t it. Especially looking at it historically.  
It is important to point out that Washington for all his greatness, was a slave owner. Yet unlike many other leaders of his time, in his will he did free his slaves upon the death of his wife and provide for their education.
       As Lincoln said in his second inaugural address about the Northern and Southern states “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes God’s aid against the other.”  
So how do I claim the moral high ground. I don’t.
I claim my moral ground. And I ask you to claim yours as well.
We often here fundamentalist religions claiming morality and God is on their side.
And because we are open to multiple possibilities we are often not definitive saying this is the only way, or this is the one true way.
But that doesnt mean just because I am open to other perspectives and other ways of thinking,
it doesn’t mean I don’t believe in a better way, or I don’t believe that what I think is moral.
And because each of us have different opinions, elections in our country are moral statements,
about what we as country believe to be moral.
We as a religion recognize difference and the importance of each of us having our input to come to a higher truth and we have imbedded that in our foundational principles,
“The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
And so I ask you as we come upon election day I ask you to consider the moral values of your choices.  For me, there are many moral choices.
Many of my choices are based on our principles, particularly the principle of justice equity and compassion in human relations.
I believe Maintaining health care for pre-existing conditions, Expanding quality physical and mental health care for all through some type of  single payer or universal health care system.
Now I don’t even care whether you think health care is a right or not. How and to whom we offer Health care is a moral choice about how we spend our resources as a country to care for our fellow human beings.  
I believe in the continuation of a sustainable Social Security system.
This is a moral choice, so that the elderly and disabled will be able to live with dignity and sustenance.
I value the moral choice keeping families together in their many forms.
I believe it is immoral to forcibly separate children from parents unless they are in danger,
I believe it is immoral to put children in cages as a way to coerce their parents.
I think it is immoral to break up families and increase poverty due to non violent marijuana possession.
I think it is particularly immoral when that is done disproportionately on a racial basis.
I believe it is moral to help people lift themselves out of poverty
If we truly want people to reach their potential we should provide education for all people, and we should pay a living wage as a society
so people do not have to worry where their next meal is coming from or if they will have a roof over their head.
What other choice do we have if we truly believe in justice equity and compassion in human relations. Do you know the other day I read the government objects to free college education because then they would have difficulty in getting anyone to volunteer for the armed services. This might also fit with my belief in the goal of world community with peace liberty and justice for all, not just for Americans, but for all. Is the child born in Bangladesh, of less value than a child born in America?
I do believe it is moral in the absence of emergency, just as we do at the Congregation, that we as a country should have a balanced budget that recognizes that those who have the means to, should help those who do not have the means.
And perhaps, cutting back on the military industrial complex spending is a way to reach that goal as well as the goal of a peaceful world community. 
I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of each person and so I think it is moral to respect individuals gender identity and sexual orientation.
I think it is moral to protect women’s health rights.  
I believe we should respect the interdependent web of existence, so I think it is moral to have Sane environmental protections to save the planet for our descendants compared to a deregulation scorched earth policy.  

I ask you to think about what are your hopes for this country? How do your values help you discern that. What are we called to do to bring about as Washington said the fruits of exalted justice and benevolence. Now I don’t know. 200 years from now, someone will look back and this may all seem crazy to them. In the same way our founders could not have even fathomed the internet, so too can we not fathom what the future holds, but that does not excuse us from doing the best we can with the knowledge we have, in our free religious community,
still searching for enlightenment, looking upon each others faces with compassion, acting towards our fellow human beings with empathy, and righting the wrongs of injustice.
That is what my morality calls on me to do.

Part II
I have enjoyed the tv show Madam Secretary over the years because it shows the nuanced challenges of diplomacy and the  difficult decisions government has to make. Here in this scene, is the Secretary of State talking to her daughter after her daughter tells her she is not going to vote

First what I loved most about this scene was the little kids playing on the floor while their parents voted. I remember doing this when my parents went to vote. Voting was not considered an option in my family.
My grandparents who were immigrants to this country considered it a requirement of citizenship, and as well worked as volunteers on election day.
Now I know many young people who vote and are engaged in political life.
And I know many young and old people who are not engaged in the political process. And I get it. I came of age during the Nixon White House and Nixon’s forced resignation and pardon. And I have lived long enough to understand the inefficiency and corruption that arises in government. 

Yet I have also been around long enough and studied long enough to see the power of government used for good. To end slavery, to stop fascism.
To build an interstate highway,
to fund research for life saving medicine,
and for the creation of the internet,  
to provide a system to help those who are struggling, to legalize marriage equality, public education, and much more, and it requires constant vigilance and attention as we see the good being constantly chipped away at. 

As the video stated Democracy is not perfect, or efficient, but it is what we have. And maybe we should not hope for efficiency in Government.   I was moved by what Parker Palmer said in his book The Heart of Democracy”
“Just as a virgin prairie is less efficient than agribusiness land, democracy is less efficient than a dictatorship. We often move too slowly on matters of moral or practical urgency. And yet this loss of efficiency is more than offset by the way human diversity, freely expressed, can strengthen the body politic—offering resilience in the face of threat, adaptability to change, creativity and productivity in everything from commerce to science to culture”
Your participation, your voice  is important.
You may not think your vote counts.  
But I can tell you it does.  
I lived in Florida during the Gore/Bush Presidential election in 2000.
Although there are still today disputes about voter suppression and the actual final count, but the final tally for official purposes was 537 votes. Out of 5.8 million votes the difference was 537 votes.
Imagine if more people had voted how the world would be different today. So don’t tell me your vote doesn’t count. It is a privilege to say your vote doesn’t count.
Elections have real consequences for many people, even if not for you and we are all in this together. And although at times it may seem that Democracy is slowing dieing,
I am reminded of what Rev. William Barber said "We are being asked to be the moral defibrillator for the heart of democracy." 
Democracy needs us to be engaged.
To pump its heart so it will breather longer and stronger, to breathe new life into it.
Even if it sometimes needs us to pound it in the chest and shock it back to life.
If we are not willing to take responsibility for it, we leave ourselves vulnerable and we cannot just assume the patient is going to live and its death will end our freedom. So vote, go to school borad meetings, city council meetings, zoning board meetings, whatever you are passionate about, be engaged.

The other thing that the tv clip reminded me of, the responsibility to vote, because so many people died for the right to vote. Now the tv show was talking about our armed services fighting for our freedom, but I am also reminded of our siblings, who blood was spilled in this country including Unitarian blood in the fight for voting rights.

I was reminded about this from a tweet by Georgia representative John Lewis who marched in Selma for voting rights in 1965. He wrote
“I have been beaten, my skull fractured, and arrested more than forty times so that each and every person has the right to register and vote. Friends of mine gave their lives. Do your part. Get out there and vote”
And I thought about those who died, those known and unknown 

1955  Rev. George Lee,  used his pulpit and his printing press to urge people to vote.
White officials offered Lee protection on the condition he end his voter registration efforts, but Lee refused and was murdered.

 Known 1964, James Earl ChaneyAndrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner, all murdered after coming to Philadelphia Mississippi to register people to vote

 Known February 1965 · Marion, Alabama
Jimmie Lee Jackson was beaten and shot by state troopers as he tried to protect mother from a state trooper attack at a voting rights march. His death led to the Selma-Montgomery march

Known March  1965 · Selma, Alabama
Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from Boston, and Viola Liuzzo a Unitarian layperson from Michigan were killed in Alabama after participating in the Selma March for Voting Rights.  Soon after Lyndon Johnson was able to pass the Voting Rights Act, even mentioning Reeb in his address to Congress.  
All of these people and so many many more, call to us from the grave and call us to be engaged in public life.

So let our life have meaning,
Let us rise above our fears,
let us continue to build resilience by acting courageously, yes by acting we build resilience,
let us find our voice,
let us remain humble in that we know there is much we do  not know, and mostly
let us have hope.
Not a pie in the sky hope,
not a well wishing optimism hope, but rather a hope As Victoria Safford says where “you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle but joy” So Please vote and no matter what happens, stay engaged.
Be true to your heart, and your hope and your struggle
Let us continue the struggle together as we build the world we dream about because your lives count and the lives that will come after us count as well, They are counting on us.  May it be so.

Friday, September 28, 2018

A Sad Day for America. DON'T GIVE UP - Rev. Jay Wolin - Thoughts on the Kavanaugh Hearing

There are days that I hope for a God of Judgement. Until that time arrives, if it arrives, it is up to us human beings to see the work of justice be done on this earth. I sat riveted listening to Dr. Ford’s and Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony.  First, I have to say, as a man, I am tentative to speak about this.  I feel this is a time to lift up womens’ voices. As a minister though, I feel it is my religious responsibility to use what ever moral authority I have to shed light on the issue and to raise the consciousness of whoever will listen. Throughout my life, first just as a compassionate listener and now as a minister, I have heard women’s stories about harassment and abuse. Earlier this week at a local rally we heard story after story of women harassed and abused by men. And yes, I know men are abused as well, and I do not diminish that, but it is at a much smaller %. And yes, research has shown that a small % of claims brought forth are found to be false. Over 95% of abuse claims are real and true (and a large majority never reported), and personal experience confirms that high %. I therefore believe people and especially women when an accusation is made. And let me assure you that the trauma of such harassment and abuse is devastating and long lasting.  We need to change the moral bankruptcy of men in this world.  This is not a court of law. This is not just for a nomination on the supreme court. This is a court of moral opinion of how we are going to interact with each other as humans.

Changing the culture will require a shift. Men (and women) are enculturated into this machismo misogyny. Every movie with Bogart or John Wayne just grabbing the women and kissing her, makes it seem reasonable to just grab women and kiss them. How many romantic comedies have men stalking women (I think of the movie where he is outside her house with a boombox blasting “their” song) until the women gives in and admits their love.  Men do not see this as harassment. They see it just the way things are. When women try to reject these overtures men often become angry and violent. Time and again when women come forward to authorities they are excoriated and forced  to endure humiliation for coming forward.  

Dr. Ford’s testimony was credible. And I cringe even writing that.  I am someone who has had to give court depositions, and is interviewed often on television. It is nerve wracking and pressure-filled and you have to be precise and it is difficult to do under normal circumstances. I cannot imagine how it must be talking  publicly about a personal trauma. So she was more then credible and believable. She was courageous. She didn’t have to do this. The Republican Senators used an inquisitor who spoke for them when Dr. Ford was on the stand. The Republicans admitted themselves they could not control themselves from saying stupid things. That in and of itself shows their moral bankruptcy.  The inquisitor focused her time asking questions that were clearly trying to trip up the witness and show that this was a bigger conspiracy rather then uncover the truth. Dr. Ford did not fall for the bait, from either Republican or Democratic lawmakers (as they tried to get her to expand her story). She told her truth and should be believed.

Judge Kavanaugh’s uncontrolled (or crafted) emotional outbursts, his refusal to answer some questions, his obfuscation of other questions, and his partisan attacks shows me a number of things. One he is denying the mistakes of his youth, but worse, he has not learned from them. He thinks he can just bully people and thinks that is acceptable attitude. Second, his temperament and partisanship should be a disqualifier. The fact that he has lied several times and his papers are being hidden, tells me he is not a trustworthy person. He has no empathy for others, as shown by his unwillingness to even shake the hand of the parent of a child killedd by gun violence at the hearings. He doesn’t see that the things he does are harassment. He yelled at and attacked the woman Senator who asked him a difficult question about whether he ever blacked out. He thinks it is ok to yell at senators who are questioning you for a job. Yell, attack and then cry when you are challenged.  That is the misogynist way. He particularly twitched and was evasive when Sen. Kamala Harris questioned him (A woman of color).  When people are in power, or have power over others, it is rare that they give it up willingly. And they fight every time when that power is challenged. The anger we saw from Kavanaugh yesterday and the anger we saw from Republican lawmakers (who finally found their voice to speak to Kavanaugh – I guess it is ok to say stupid stuff amongst men) was this rejection that someone would reject their power over them. In the 19th century we had to have a civil war about this. Instead of looking for truth, instead of showing compassion, they condemned, and by so doing they have fallen short.   

The committee will approve Kavanaugh.  Jeff Flake is the one who has fallen the farthest from God. The other Republicans are unabashed misogynists. Jeff Flake tries to pretend that he is compassionate and reasonable, but in the end Flake votes for Kavanaugh’s approval. He votes for cutting taxes, he votes to cut social programs that will help those who are suffering. He has fallen the furthest because of his duplicity and thus he will end up in the lower levels of hell (if there is a hell or else he will be in long term remediation class in heaven or reincarnated as a mosquito.)  We have a President who has been on tape bragging about sexually abusing women. He and the people he appoints are hostile to women’s health issues. They are not arbiters of good morality.

The question is what are we going to do about it. If the law will not protect women, how can women protect themselves. How can we support them. It is the question people of color and poor people have to answer every day as well. Yes, I was riveted by the testimonies yesterday. It was like watching a car wreck. It was horrible and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. But unlike car accidents this was not an accident, it is an avoidable and changeable tragedy. For me It is important to witness the tragedy, and it is important to speak about the tragedy, so that we can find a new way. Create a new way.
Women, all harassment and abuse survivors, I hear you. I know you are in pain. And I commit to lift up your voices, I commit to work to end the patriarchy that destroys so many lives, and limits so many souls from flourishing, and ends love. I have to work hard not to let love die in my soul, when these events happens. I am human. I have my own failings. I get discouraged, I have had my own tragedies. I take time to look within myself and see what can I do or not do to help make things better.  Ending the patriarchy is not being anti-man. It is to end men’s control over women. That can be freeing for men as well, but certainly and mostly it is about justice for women. 

As a religious leader, it is my role to speak the truth and to espouse a vision of a better way to be in community even if those in power do not agree. I also know it my role to lift up hope and the possibility of a world based on compassion and love. One of the greatest gifts Unitarian Universalism has given me is that it opened my mind, and then my heart to hearing other people’s stories and perspectives by being in relationship with them in a covenanted community.  It is hard to let go of old ways of thinking. But since I had covenanted to be in right relationship with people I learned to listen and to change and grow. I believe it can happen for others and the world. It is why I became a minister. To share that message that love, compassion, hope and change is possible. It may not be today, it may not be in my lifetime, but I will do my share in my time to bring that about, in every small and large way I can in the here and now,  and I ask you to do so as well. Do not give up. DO NOT GIVE UP. Do not sit back. The old ways are dieing, but they are not going quietly or peaceably as we saw on display at the Kavanaugh hearings. And the patriarchy seems intent on taking everyone down with them before they change. All good people need to join together and listen and believe and act together. I hear you, I believe you. How can I help you change the world.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


     In my first reflection I talked more about Congregational vision. I think it is just as important for each of us to have a personal vision for our lives. Most job interviews ask a standard question, where do you see yourself in five years. Most people really don’t know how to answer that question. The truth is it is a false question because no one really knows where they will be in five years. It is asked to see how you will react to it, to understand your vision for your life. I would usually tell people to answer, I would hope to have opportunities to grow and learn new skills, and add value to the organization. 
      I think that is probably a good vision for anyone in general. To grow and learn new skills and add value to the world.  The farther out we look for our vision the harder it can be to discern. I think its good to periodically reflect on how we envision our future.Tonight is the first night of the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah.  Rosh HaShanah is the beginning of the The Jewish High Holy Days which will end in 10 days with the holiday Yom Kippur. As I look back over my years of sermons, I note that I have on more then one occasion preached about Yom Kippur the day of atonement, but have never talked about Rosh Hashanah. That probably says something about me.
      Religiously Rosh Hashanah is believed to be the anniversary of the day that Adam and Eve were created by God. Historians believe culturally it was set at this time because it was the beginning of the sowing and harvest season in the Middle east. It was a way for Jews to set themselves apart from the ancient Greeks and Romans who set their new year later in the spring.  It was not until 45 bc that the Romans changed the New Year to January 1st.  Being raised in the Jewish faith, this is one time of year I intentionally stop to reflect upon the upcoming year.  My Buddhist training has taught me not to become attached to hoped for outcomes. But that should not prevent us from working towards hoped for outcomes.  
     The key to creating a vision is to determine the why. Why do we hope for a specific outcome. If the why is strong enough it is easier to find a way to make that vision a reality.  And with reflection we learn to be open to changing our vision. When I was young I had no vision I was going to be a minister. And later in life when I first decided to become a minister. I had no idea my journey would take me to Iowa. 
I think it is important in thinking about our vision to start with determining what our values are.
Not what values we are taught or raised up to believe.
Not what values we hope we will have one day.
But day in and day out what is it that you value by your actions.
By consciously doing this we realize that over time our values have changed.
And by consciously discerning this we can choose a new vision for ourselves. 

As Rabbi Howard Berman says
“Rosh Hashanah proclaims Judaism’s revolutionary teaching that history is not cyclical and static—as other ancient cultures believed—but rather, that human experience is dynamic and evolutionary—always progressing toward new heights and greater revelations of Divine truth. For each of us, personally, this means that we need not be bound by the limitations, patterns and regrets of the past… but rather, that there is always an opportunity to make a fresh start, and begin anew.”

     And so I encourage you to reflect on what patterns have been unhealthy for you. What ways can you start anew and then I encourage you to start anew. So I offer you this jewish prayer
“May this New Year, 5779, bring healing and renewal… joy and health…life and peace…
to us and to all the world.” May it be so”

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Movies that Move Me

Writer C.S. Lewis said “As humans, we seek an enlargement of our being.We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to (our)self. … We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. … We demand windows.”
Movies can be a window to other worlds. Every week is a little different here. For those who follow me on my blog JWORLD  you know I love movies. Other then sermons, it is what I post most about on my blog. Movies have been a big part of my life. On a very practical level, at a young age it was a place to go that was air conditioned where no one would bother you.
Also I was lucky, in the Bronx, there was the Lowes Paradise Theatre
This ornate theatre at the time had cut outs in the ceiling with stars and just being there was magical and gave me a window to another world, where things could be beautiful, where imagination was encouraged and even occasionally the hero would win in the end. I think there is a little sentimentality for me in going to movies in that they bring up those emotions from my childhood.
 Now of course there are plenty of movies that are just escapist, A good movie though can help you see the world beyond your own, can help you better understand the world we live in and can help you develop skills and values to improve your life. The experience of going to a movie is different then television. The fact that you are seeing it with others, reminds you that others are experiencing the same thing at the very same time in that very theatre, throughout the state, throughout the country even throughout the world, and that in some small way connects us to others. Movies are a one shot thing. (which is why with rare exceptions I disdain sequels).
In approximately two hours you can travel in time to bring you to the creation of the universe and/or into the future for exploration of the galaxy. In those two hours time can speed up and you can span a lifetime and see the trajectory and consequences of a decision or life, and that can help inform us in our lives our well. 
One of the most important things about movies, is that it allows us to see and be connected to lives and worlds other then our own.  It allows us to see the differences as well as the commonalities of human experiences of love, life, struggle, and death.  As I thought about this, I thought what movies could I share with you that would help you understand the environment I grew up in in the Bronx as a way for you to understand the context of my life.  Its not that easy. I realize they are only shadows or stories, or snippets of reality, but stories are all we have. There are movies that have the Bronx as a setting but are just fantasies that are really nothing like it, like Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx or the Warriors. Even a thought provoking movie such as Finding Forrester that tells the story of JD Salinger type writer living in refuge in his Bronx Apartment who ends up mentoring a young African American student in writing is set in the Bronx, but it could be anywhere.  Here is a short clip 

“The rest of those who have gone before us, can not steady the unrest of those to follow” 
Sometimes one line can make a movie for me.
This movie speaks of friendship, integrity, how helping each other allows us to unlock our potential, and the realization that we cannot escape or hide from our past and our suffering, we can only engage it and try to find meaning and move forward through deepening relationships in our lives. And although this movie didn’t reflect much of my experience in the Bronx, it probably means more to me then it does others because I spent summer days in the house that Ruth built and I understand what it means to not have someone see my potential.  There are other movies   that show the Bronx, and its inhabitants in a slice of life story, such as Fort Apache the Bronx, Or Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam, which both did realistically capture a snapshot of the mood during one place and one time and from one perspective. Two movies that I would say captured the Bronx from the perspective that I grew up in. Both starred Chaz Palminterri who grew up in the Bronx not far from where I did. The first one is a Bronx Tale with Robert DeNiro.  It tells the story of a young man who from a young age is lured by the life of crime and his father a bus driver trying to keep him on the straight and narrow and in this scene speaks to the ethics of how we earn our money and what constitutes tough.  

This is an ok movie, and This movie shares the same challenge many families face and it shows examples of courage and  later in the movie also points to the fragility of life and how one decision we make, or how one persons intervention can change your life.
It constantly calls us to question how to maintain our morality in an immoral world and the consequences of our choices. Those morally ambiguous movies are the ones I like the best.
The movie that probably best projects the environment I grew up in was the movie called A guide to recognizing your saints. It actually was set in the borough of Queens not the Bronx, but it more then any other movie depicts my experience of living in an outer borough of NYC. 

Its summer, its hot!! People are pretty matter of fact in New York.  I knew and met many characters similar to the ones depicted in this movie. The movie shows the randomness of life and death.  it shows how our upbringing often shapes the trajectory of our lives without our even realizing it. It showed the yearning for more out of life, or at least the  yearning for something different, to break out of the rut of the cycle of our lives, and the tension that causes and how often we are held back by our allegiances to friends and family. (You went to coney island with someone you just met – with the inference that exploring was risky, and that he should stayed home with his long time friend) This one scene shows how just one person connecting with us or our connecting with another person can point to another world beyond what we know, beyond what we have been taught, sometimes it takes someone showing us or modeling for us that it is ok to cross boundaries, whether physical or the arbitrary boundaries in our minds.   
             I  loved the juxtaposition and metaphor of how we look at travel. He had never travelled to Coney Island by train, but this other person had come from another country.  Sometimes going even a short distance can seem like going to another country. Whether its going cross town or letting go of your presuppositions about how things are or how they should be, and opening ourselves to new ideas new ways of being, and new perspectives, although you may be risking the known, the journey will expand our universe.In the end we see the arc of the characters life, and the same story that sometimes we have to leave the place we are to find ourselves, or leave the place of mind we are in to find a more fulfilling life. But no matter how far we travel, we can not run away from our grief.
At some point we have to face it, if we are to have peace within. Clearly this is a theme that touches me and others who lived in such an environment.  
So I have through movies given you a window into my world. I ask you consider what movies are windows into your life, or what movies have provided you a window into another life, another world. And although it has improved recently, I understand the truth that there are not as many American movies that have lead characters or stories that are centered around People of Color and Women. And for far too long White Actors have played roles meant for People of Color. We have to face that and we have to demand change. Just good Oscars so White and you will understand. Another thing we need to face and understand and we face it every week and I ask you to be open to it as well, is our support for social justice and this community through our weekly offering. This month 50% of our offering will be going to support the Sanctuary Task Force Once you have had the chance to donate I invite you to come down to mark a joy or sorrow in your life.

Part II
IN looking outward, movies speak for those who do not have a voice, they allow us to develop empathy by seeing others lives, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their sorrow, their joys. This point to the fact that movies can also be used to help us develop our inner life and our moral values.  They can show us stories of courage and overcoming adversity. They can show us we are not alone in our fears and anxieties, and we are not alone in asking the deep questions of life. Movies can be visually beautiful and starkly realistic. Movies can be morally ambiguous and they can be definitive and judgmental. 
They can allow us to experience emotions that we often keep hidden through years of protecting ourselves from pain. I still today always cry everytime Eliot realizes ET is still alive or when Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams after his long journey of self discovery  asks his dad to play catch. Theologian Paul Tillich once said that
“in the proximate, the daily, the apparently small, there is hidden in truth the metaphysical; the here-and-now is the place where meaning is disclosed, where our existence must find interpretation, if it can find an interpretation at all.”  
Movies can help us look inward. To balance what we see against our own interpretation of the world. And sometimes they help us better understand how to make our way in the world. I keep a separate youtube list of movies that inspire me that every now and then, when I need a pick me up I will play.  Here is just a sample.

Writer Brett McCracken writes “cinema is more than just a window. It’s also a magnifying glass. It focuses our attention on everyday reality in a way that makes us see everyday reality for what it really is: magnificence and curiosity.” Let us see everything for what it is. Let us look for the beauty within each other. And the next time you go to the movies, look a little deeper, open a little wider and look through the window to see yourself and the world around you in a new way.
May it be so.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Shabbat Service Reflection at 2018 General Assembly

The Torah portion for today is such a challenging reading as well as a telling one for us as individuals as well as congregations and as an association. The book of numbers tells the story of the Jewish people  wandering in the wilderness after achieving their freedom from slavery in Egypt. They were searching for their homeland continuing the story from the book of exodus. Throughout the journey in the wilderness there is a constant what the Bible calls murmuring, we might say complaining. There was an insurrection that was violently put down, and at one point even Aaron and Miriam challenged Moses for leadership. Even after Moses learned to delegate authority, people struggled with any form of hardship, even proposing going back to Egypt. It is natural to fear the unknown, Some people prefer the harshness but certain existence of how things were, but we if we are to be who we were meant to be we have risk a little uncertainty.
Different then the book of exodus when God was very forgiving to the people when they murmured, In Numbers God was willing to wipe out the people due to their complaining . The only thing that saved the people from God’s wrath was Moses holding fast to the hope for the people.  But even Moses (just like ministers occasionally) gets frustrated, with the people complaining and strikes the rock instead of talking to it to provide the water to save the people.  For this Moses is banned from ever entering Israel. Lets give Moses a break ok, He was working 70 hours a week, preaching and teaching and probably even creating a newsletter on tablets for the people. Now we can look at this story as how a large group of nomadic people learned to govern themselves, that is probably some truth to that.
But I see a beautiful story of overcoming insurmountable obstacles it is the story of sticking with it, it is the story of despite doubt and hardship continuing to move forward.  
I have to admit, growing up Jewish in the Bronx in NYC, I did not have a lot of experience with the physical wilderness. I hate to perpetuate stereotypes but My idea of wilderness was going to the Bronx Zoo.  Now my wife Jan on the other hand grew up camping her entire life. So after we dated a while she suggested we try camping for a weekend.  And being the willing suitor that I was I agreed.    After we had procured all the proper equipment for tent and fire building and the mandatory marshmallows, we headed out on the highway to unknown territory.
Then it started to rain….and then it started to rain harder. I’m talking Noah and the flood kind of rain.
I saw this as a sign of impending doom,
but I hung in there.  We finally make it to the campground and check in and as I get back into the car to drive to the campsite, mind you it still pouring down rain, our car is stuck in the mud.
But I remained calm, and I still hung in there.
I said to myself, I’ve seen something like this on tv. 
I can handle this.  That will impress her.   So I start rocking the car back and forth and then I tell jan to hit the gas and you guessed it, as the car lurches out of the mud all the mud just flies all over me head to toe.  At that point, I swallowed whatever little pride I had left and said we are going to a hotel tonight. But I washed myself off, hung in there and came back the next day and put up the tent in the rain and Jan created a fire in the rain which really impressed me.  I spent the rest of the weekend communing with nature and had a wonderful time. Maybe not the land of milk and honey, but it was nice
Sometimes doing new things, learning new things, can be difficult or messy.
It takes us a while to figure out how things work.  We often though when doing new things find a reservoir of skill and determination that we never previously knew we had.  Now for many years thereafter and later on with our children, we went camping often, and things got easier over time,
but it never would have happened it I first hadn’t agreed to go along on the trip into the great unknown and if I hadn’t stuck in there, despite the setbacks, despite the rain, despite the mud.
Sometimes we just have to stick with it and believe that it will get easier and live into that future.
So the wilderness can be seen as a place we need to travel through on the way to our destination, as a test, as a place to receive revelation, as a place to find enlightenment,
            The wilderness does not have to be a physical place but can also be a state of mind. 
Some people do not want to leave the comfort of the status quo, but to find transformation we have to journey into the unknown Its hard, muddy work.  We have to risk getting dirty and being uncomfortable. But this story of Moses and Hebrew people tells us, if we are ever to reach our destination, we need to stick together, even when we sometimes don’t agree with the direction. It may take us longer,  but if we are ever going to fulfill our destiny as a religion we have to stick together, and have faith in each other.
At  the end of this story, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam all die before the community reaches their destination. This message tells me that eventually old ideas and ways have to die if we are going to make room for new ideas, and new ways and new people. That is the hardest thing I think, to leave behind the skills that got us to where we are.
So I encourage you to be open to change, because another truth is the things we need to get us out of slavery, the things we need in the wilderness through the hard times, are not always the same skills we need to create something new.
May our journey bring us wisdom, may it bring us peace, may it bring us healing. I would rather die free in the wilderness with you than be a slave in and to the past. Let us go and find those who are fleeing, let us all gather and let us walk together into an uncertain future, a future where we can build the world we dream about. Let us all find our way home.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Theology is Boring - (or is it?) thoughts on study leave as I try to distract myself from reading.

I know, I know, I am a minister. Theology is the foundation of my vocation. I am not that type of minister I say. People look strangely at me and wonder, as if their world had tilted off its axis. It is not that I don’t like theology, but most who write about it feel the need to prove how educated they are with multisyllabic words  (see what I did there 😊). I read book after book. In reality it is more like slogging through it. Certainly some of it is my ongoing contemplation and argument with every line that I read. That can be exhausting. Why? How did you come to that conclusion? What does that mean? I debate myself in my own mind before I go  on to the next sentence. It makes reading a book a journey.  

In truth everything is theology. Every walk, every movie, every conversation, every event I attend is a view of the world from a theological perspective. What is the purpose of this or that. What meaning can be derived from the experience. What mystery of the universe can be unlocked from every observation. What is the metaphor of every interaction. It is exhausting and beautiful and just how my radio waves are tuned in. 

But reading one more book of the erudition of Spinoza’s ethics, (which is really just a way for him to hide his atheism) and Augustine’s Confessions (really next time keep it to yourself – its done so much damage just because you had to justify leaving the woman you loved and your son at your mother’s insistence to marry for position and power and that led to ongoing misogyny within the church) or even new challenging perspectives on the Scriptures (How long has it been and we still have not figured out “thou shall not kill” – its pretty simple) will make me catatonic. 

No I want to read a simple poem, see a beautiful flower, pet my cat (I really need to get a dog), roll on the floor with my grandchild, watch the sunset and hopefully rise the next day. This is my theology – Life and living it. (and of course writing and talking about it). Thanks for reading and listening to me. 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

My Speech at Families Belong Together Rally June 30th

My friends I think sometimes our country has lost its moral way.
Then I see you, and I hear these stories.
Let us remember that we determine our fate,
the actions we take or the lack of action is a choice.
I ask you to choose action to side with our immigrant and refugee siblings.
I invite you to side with children and families,
I invite you to side with love.
It seems incredulous, that I have to say we need to take action to side with children and families.
I am thankful that the very first article in this country’s bill or rights states “
Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 
Well I have a few grievances with the government. 
Friends it is time to fight for our moral and ethical values. These are my demands

One, We need to end the inhumane practice of this government’s policies of Family separation and Reunite families now.  Plain and simple. This is inhumane, immoral, and the fact that we even have to teach this baseline morality to government officials shows our country has fallen into the moral and ethical abyss. Can we never learn from our past. We separated children from our indigenous siblings, we separated children from our African American siblings when we enslaved them, and now we are separating children from refugee families.
Let us support children, not abandon them,
Let us love children, not traumatize them,
Let us side with children, Let us side with love.

Second, We need to end this inhumane practice of family detention.
The fifth article of the bill of rights says no person, not no citizen, no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; Children and families deserve due process, not indefinite imprisonment.
Children do not belong in cages and internment-like camps.  
Family incarceration is not the solution to family separation.
It seems the practice of continuing to imprison and destroy families of color from slavery, to jim crow to Japanese American internment camps, to mass incarceration, to now refugee imprisonment continues today.
Give them due process, I ask you to side with love

Third, End ‘Zero Humanity policy of this governement.’ Reverse the policy that created this crisis and chaos to begin with. Parents should not be criminally prosecuted for doing what all parents have done throughout history, which is bring their children to safety.
Let us remain that safe haven for families facing persecution, and let us do what we can to end that persecution, not add to it.  
I ask you to side with love. 

Last for today we demand Comprehensive Immigration Reform
We must have a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million refugees who are already here, our neighbors, part of the fabric of our community, whose children our children go to school and play with, people working hard to build a better life for their families.
That is the dream of America
I invite you to side with love and build that world that we dream about.

So what can we do. We must choose to act!! 
Your showing up here is a start, it tells the leaders of this community and throughout the country where our values are. But it can not end there.

We can and we should continue to communicate with our elected officials asking them to denounce this government’s immoral policies on refugees and to create policies that will create a welcoming community for all.
But that is not nearly enough.

We must vote in November and encourage everyone we know to vote for candidates who support our values. No election has been more crucial to the future of our country. I encourage you to vote with love in your hearts thinking of these children
But it can not end there.

I invite you to Work with local organizations in the community that are doing the work of racial and immigration justice, Palomares, LULAC Moline,LULAC Davenport,  
NAACP Davenport and Rock Island, Quad Cities Interfaith, One Human Family. Progressive Action for the Common Good and Boots on the Ground just to name a few.
Get involved. Locally we can impact our community.
But it can not end there.

If our government officials don’t listen, or continue to obstruct and suppress voting, we may have to take stronger actions. The time is coming again for acts of civil disobedience if our government does not respond to we the people. My congregation has offered to be a sanctuary for refugees. I invite you to talk to your place of worship to do the same or to join the sanctuary coalition helping other religious organization who have and I personally commit to helping you with that. We may have to shut down streets, business, even the government, if they do not listen to the grievances of the people.

Do not be afraid. The work for love is never easy and it requires sacrifice, but it is necessary.
We are fighting for the soul of this nation,
we are fighting for children and families,
and we need to go the distance.

Lastly the most important work we have is to maintain hope in the face of adversity.
We have to maintain hope and have the faith that what we do matters.
Even in the uncertainty, especially in the uncertainty of not knowing how or when change will happen,  we must have the faith that we can build a better world where all are safe. ,
Let us find our way together out of the abyss.
Thank you my friends. May you be blessed and may you be a blessing to others.